Great horned owl
|Great Horned Owl|
|Conservation status||Least concern|
Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), largest "eared" owl, as well as the most wide-ranging, in the Western Hemisphere.
Great horned owls are 25 inches in length, have a 55-inch wingspan, and weigh 2 to 5.5 pounds. Females are slightly larger than males. Color above varies among subspecies, from a whitish to dark brown and gray, and heavily-barred. The underparts are lighter brown to white, with thin dark horizontal bars at the tips of every feather; a thin vertical divide of white marks the center of the chest, giving a slight appearance of wearing a "vest". This whitish area spreads out and terminates at the neck.
The facial disk is prominent and well-defined, bearing a grayish to rufus color outlined in black. The eyes are large and yellow. The ear tufts, referred to sometimes as "horns", are dark in color, and raised or lowered depending on the bird's mood. The feet, zygodactyl in form, are feathered to the claws.
The call is hoo, hoo-hoo, HOO HOO, sonorous and far-carrying, and heard usually during sunset or dawn. The vocal pitch of the male lower than the female's.
- Bubo virginianus elachistus; Mexico: Southern Baja California and Isla Espírito Santo
- Bubo virginianus heterocnemis; Northeastern Canada south to Great Lakes region
- Bubo virginianus lagophonus, sometimes referred to as B. v. algistus; Central Alaska to northeastern Oregon and Montana; winters south to Texas
- Bubo virginianus mayensis; Mexico: Yucatán Peninsula
- Bubo virginianus mesembrinus; Mexico: Isthmus of Tehuántepec to western Panama
- Bubo virginianus nigrescens; Andes Mountains of Colombia to Ecuador and northwestern Peru
- Bubo virginianus nacurutu, sometimes referred to as B. v. deserti; Eastern Colombia to the Guianas, northeastern Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina
- Bubo virginianus pacificus; Coastal California to northwestern Baja California
- Bubo virginianus pallescens; Deserts of California to Kansas and southern Mexico (Oaxaca)
- Bubo virginianus saturatus; Coastal southwestern Alaska (Cook Inlet) to coastal central California
- Bubo virginianus subarcticus; Yukon and northwestern British Columbia to Hudson Bay, Wyoming, North Dakota.
- Bubo virginianus virginianus; Minnesota to Nova Scotia, south to Kansas, east Texas and Florida
Great horned owls feed on a variety of game, from grouse and rabbits to lizards, frogs, and insects. They are also the only bird of prey known to regularly hunt skunks. Like other owls, they possess "flutings" or "fimbriae" on the leading edge of the primary wing feathers; in flight they effectively cut down the air turbulence caused by flapping, allowing the owls to strike their prey without making a sound. The prey is consumed whole if small enough, and passed through the digestive tract as a pellet; larger prey is broken down.
In captivity the great horned owl can live to over 30 years; in the wild rarely living beyond 15 years.
The mating season usually begins in North America in January and February. Nests are usually those reused from other large abandoned nests. Two to four eggs are laid, and are hatched within 28-35 days, with the females providing primary care, with the males capturing and bring food. The young birds leave the nest after about six to seven weeks; they are fledged after nine to ten weeks.